Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bangladesh to be a secular nation?

Bangladesh may soon cease to be an Islamic nation. According to Sayeda Sajeda Chowdhury, MP and deputy leader of Bangladesh Parliament, efforts are on to embrace the basic tenets of the 1972 constitution of the country which advocated secularism, democracy and socialism. More importantly, the constitutional amendment will ensure that religion keeps away from politics.

"Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had given us secularism. We still believe in Bengali nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism which were the basic tenets of the country's constitution that was adopted in 1972. Later, this constitution was amended and Bangladesh was converted into an Islamic nation. We are trying to ensure that Islam, or for that matter any other religion, ceases to be a state religion. Those who kill in the name of religion and torture women do little else but drag a nation backward. The military junta had promoted fundamentalism in the country to suit its own needs. We can't allow a military junta to return. We shall stop the involvement of religion in politics and discrimination against people of other faiths," Chowdhury, who was in Kolkata for a seminar on 'Role of Women in the Movement of Human Secularism in South Asia' said. The seminar was organised by the Bharat Bangladesh Maitri Samiti to mark the birth centenary of poet Sufia Kamal.

Journalist and human rights activist Sahariar Kabir noted how Sufia led the secular and democratic forces in Bangladesh even during Gen Ayub Khan's regime. During her stay in Kolkata, she was commended by Rabindranath Tagore for her writings. According to him, if Sufia is to be shown respect, Islam should not remain the state religion of Bangladesh.

"We are planning to go to court unless the present government takes steps to convert Bangladesh from an Islamic state to a secular one. When Tagore was baned in Bangladesh (East Pakistan), Sufia led the movement against this. In a meeting, Ayub Khan had called all Bengalis haywans(animals). None of those present dared protest save for Sufia. She told Ayub Khan to his face that if all Bengalis are haywans, he is the president of haywans. She strove to make the country secular, democratic and socialist. One must keep in mind that society in Bangladesh wasn't very advanced in 1972 but the constitution of a Muslim-dominated country adopted secularism. Before framing the constitution, our leaders had gone through the Constitution of India as well as other constitutions. What was important is that our leaders took a 'revolutionary' step by banning religion from politics. No other country had this in its constitution. This was very important as we had witnessed genocide and torture," Kabir said.

Referring to how Mujib was assasinated a few years after the liberation of Bangladesh, he admitted that it is extremely difficult to do away with fundamentalism. "Not only was the word secularism removed from the constitution, from 1975, efforts started to convert Bangladesh into another Pakistan and later into a Taliban-ruled state. The people were never in favour and this is where Sufia played an important role as a lighthouse. She even led the committee that identified the people involved in war crimes. These people are being tried in Bangladesh now," Kabir said.

Saugata Roy, MP and president of the Bharat Bangladesh Maitri Samiti said that Bangladesh has several impediments. "Fundamentalists are not only trying to spoil relations with India but also prevent women from progressing," he said.